The first few weeks of 2024 have been busy as the Profound Impact team continues to work with universities and colleges and industry partners across Canada to deploy our AI-powered Research Impact tool, which matches researchers with the best research funding opportunities in their field and helps find industry partners to support successful grant applications. Through our innovative new partnership with CS-Can|Info-Can, the first of a series of collaborations with researchers across Canada, Profound Impact is providing CS-Can|Info-Can member Computer Science departments and researchers with free evaluations of Research Impact. Interested in learning more about Research Impact? You can view a video here or sign up for a live demonstration during one of the bi-weekly Demo Days that the Profound Impact team will be presenting throughout 2024.
I was pleased to share my insights on building Profound Impact’s team and our successful and healthy small business culture in the Grow a Small Business podcast. Profound Impact and my work were also featured in an edition of Women’s Biz podcast, where I talked about my journey in information security, my role in commercializing Elliptic Curve Cryptography, and the inspiration behind founding Profound Impact.
In August of 2023, Profound Impact announced the successful close of a $3.125 million pre-seed funding round of nearly all female investors, including many first-time angel investors. Inspired by this achievement, I joined forces with Profound Impact board chair Deborah Rosati and Lara Zink, VP of Client Service and Development at Delaney Capital Management, to create Women Funding Women Inc. (WFW). This collective, which challenges the status quo in the venture capital world and with first-time female angel investors by breaking barriers and building bridges for a more inclusive investment community, will launch in Toronto on February 7. You can read more about how WFW plans to change the VC landscape in Disruption Magazine’s recent article.
In this month’s Impact Story, you’ll meet WFW co-founder Lara Zink and learn more about her journey from working as a political aide to a successful career in finance. In our Researcher Spotlight, we profile Dr. Luigi Benedicenti, Professional Engineer, researcher and Dean of the Faculty of Computer Science at the University of New Brunswick, whose career took him from Genoa, Italy to Regina, Saskatchewan to Atlantic Canada.
We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Profound Connections!
Dr. Luigi Benedicenti joined the research community in Canada after receiving his Laurea in Electrical Engineering and Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Genoa in Italy. A Professional Engineer licensed in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick and a licensed Italian Engineer, Luigi joined the University of New Brunswick as Dean of the Faculty of Computer Science, Canada’s original faculty of computer science, in 2017.
Luigi’s interest in software engineering was sparked in high school when he worked on a version of a computer game being developed by Electronic Arts. The game was never released, but his appreciation for making and playing games led him to study computer engineering in his hometown of Genoa. “My father, who was a surgeon, was devastated when I didn’t follow in his career footsteps,” says Luigi. “But he did support me as I followed my passion.”
His journey from Italy to Canada came as a result of his academic supervisor’s move from Genoa to Calgary. Luigi traveled to Calgary to meet with his supervisor while completing his Ph.D. and applied for positions in Canada after graduation. He started his tenure at the University of Regina in 1998 as a lecturer. “When I landed in Regina, I didn’t have the right clothes. I was prepared for the weather in Calgary, but not for Regina’s temperatures of -30 to -50 degrees. The wind was so cold and deep that my eyelids froze the first time I walked to work!”
Luigi describes his 19 years at the University of Regina, where he served as a professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and terms as Associate Dean for Special Projects, Associate Vice-President, Academic, and on the university’s Board of Governors as faculty representative, as an unforgettable experience during which he learned a lot and was afforded many opportunities for growth and innovation. While in Saskatchewan, Luigi developed strong connections with industry through his participation as a board member for SpringBoard West Innovations and SaskInteractive and as a Research Professor at TRLabs, where he conducted research in software engineering, mobile agents and media provision for 11 years.
“Being an academic involves, by definition, a relationship with the public. We are contributing to the common good and there are many ways to do that. Ours is a collective effort that has a significant impact – both via our research findings and through preparation of the next generation of researchers through teaching,” notes Luigi. “I love teaching and research in more or less equal measure. They provide a nice balance and generate ideas as I move from one to the other. Teaching often provides surprising insights to my research.”
Luigi’s research focuses on Software Agents, Software Process, and New Media Technology and he specializes in program management and technology transfer. His interdisciplinary work has provided opportunities to collaborate with colleagues in Europe, South East Asia and across North America. Although his role as Dean limits the time he is able to devote to research, Luigi continues to publish regularly, run conferences and symposia in his field, and has been a member of the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB) from 2014 to 2021. “Being on a national accreditation board has been an exciting and challenging experience and I am humbled by my colleagues, who always bring contributions of the highest quality,” he says.
He is proud of the research excellence within the Faculty of Computer Science. “The Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity is one of the top three such research institutes in Canada,” notes Luigi. The outstanding young researchers within the institute balance between pure and applied research and provide immediate technology transfer to industry members through graduates who join those companies.
Spectral, UNB’s spatial computing training and research lab, combines virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality to bring together the digital and physical. Under the leadership of Dr. Scott Bateman, the lab conducts research with applications in areas including aerospace, health training, therapy and rehabilitation. “It’s one of the best User Interface/Human Computing research labs in North America,” says Luigi.
One of the faculty’s newest research ventures, the Research Institute in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (RIDSAI), was developed in response to New Brunswick’s needs in the areas of AI and data science. “RIDSAI does more than conduct pure research,” says Luigi. “The institute is developing algorithms, applications and literacy in machine learning and data science to graduate students who will have the tools to succeed in a world that relies on these technologies.” RIDSAI researchers from a range of disciplines work to develop solutions for community and industry partners in areas ranging from policy and planning to entertainment, agriculture and health.
Luigi is deeply committed to excellence in the classroom and collaborative decision-making and is appreciative of the flexibility, interest and engagement of the members of the Faculty of Computer Science at the University of New Brunswick. “We can do something great and everyone can contribute in their own way,” he says. “Our collaborative culture leads to the good of the faculty as we work together on the mission and targets identified in the vision document we developed almost four years ago.”
A self-described passionate computer geek who loves programming, software engineering, computers, video games, and everything IT, Luigi also enjoys playing and creating music, traveling, and e-biking and is a pizza aficionado. As for his future plans, he says: “There are three stages to a career. I am exiting the middle and starting to prepare for the final stage. For me, retirement is about choice. I plan to work on research that has been postponed, experiment with pizza dough and enjoy hiking, skiing and life in general.”
Associate Professor, Queen’s School of Computing, Queen’s University
The School of Computing at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario has one of the highest percentages of female students in undergraduate Computer Science in Canada. In large part, that is due to the outstanding work and dedication of Wendy Powley.
Wendy’s passions are computer science education, teaching and outreach. For more than 30 years, Wendy has personally mentored and inspired thousands of women across the country and internationally and has worked tirelessly to celebrate and connect Canadian women in computing.
Computer science and teaching are far from Wendy’s original plan, as a high-school student, to work as a flight attendant – even though she had never been on an airplane. When her guidance counsellor pointed out that she wasn’t tall enough for that career, she decided to pursue studies in Psychology and Education instead in order to work with children with intellectual disabilities. It was her first job after graduation, as a research assistant on a study in psychology and urology at Queen’s University, that introduced her to computer science. “I taught people how to urinate!” recalls Wendy. “The study was on how biofeedback could be used to help people who weren’t able to properly empty their bladders. I was tasked with analyzing data collected by the toilet and through EMG (electromyography).”
This first experience with using computers to solve real-world problems inspired Wendy to pursue a master’s degree in Computer Science and launched her career as a Research Associate and, eventually, a professor at Queen’s University.
Wendy teaches more than 1,000 students per year and she especially enjoys teaching those in their first year. Sharing her first-hand understanding of Impostor Syndrome and her struggle to learn to code has helped students, many of them women, understand that these challenges are normal and that they can be overcome. Wendy’s support has motivated many students to pursue or continue their studies in Computer Science.
Wendy’s experience helped her understand the need to encourage students outside of the School of Computing to learn to code. She restructured a computing course for students in the humanities to include mentorship by lab assistants in the weekly hands-on labs. This resulted in the enrollment of a record numbers of female students in a second course in computing.
In 2003, Wendy founded Queen’s Women in Computing (QWIC) for female-identifying students and faculty. Under Wendy’s leadership, QWIC is currently run by students, with upper year students mentoring their younger counterparts and a recently-introduced program includes computer science alumni as mentors and role models.
Wendy’s outreach and support of women to pursue studies and careers in Computer Science is not limited to Queen’s University. Wendy founded what is now the premier Canadian conference for women in computing in 2010. Wendy has led the organization of CAN-CWiC, the annual Canadian celebration of women in computing, for 12 years. Through Wendy’s vision and leadership, the conference has grown to a national annual event that attracts more than 750 attendees from universities, colleges and tech companies across Canada. CAN-CWiC provides a unique opportunity for students to hear from keynote speakers, presenters and panelists who share their stories of professional challenges and achievements. The conference also offers graduate students a chance to present their research to female faculty members for their feedback. Students who attended CAN-CWIC have progressed to roles in the tech industry and are invited back to the conference to serve as role models and mentors for students and young professionals. In 2023, a Mentoring Circles program was added, for senior faculty to discuss research and teaching issues in academia with junior faculty members and graduate students.
Wendy also works with young women in high school through the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Aspirations in Computing Awards Canada program to inspire them to pursue careers in technology. Over 100 female students in Canada received awards through the program in 2022. AiC award winners are invited to attend the CAN-CWiC conference to meet with undergraduate and graduate students as well as industry professionals.
Wendy’s dedication to promoting gender diversity in computing was recognized by CS-Can|Info-Can, Canada’s national organization for computer science professionals, in 2022 with the organization’s Distinguished Service Award for her outstanding service to the Canadian computer science community.
As Wendy reflects on her career, she says “I would never have imagined I would be teaching full time.” After attaining her master’s degree, she worked as a project manager on research study on air traffic control at the Royal Military College and a range of projects in the Queen’s School of Computing prior to being hired as a professor in the school. And, as she looks to the future, Wendy plans to focus on growing the Aspirations in Computing Awards and looks forward to resuming travel after three years of a pandemic-imposed break of meeting with family, friends and colleagues around the world.
Wendy’s tremendous work on promoting women in computing is perhaps best expressed by her former student, Nailah Ogeer, who recently posted on LinkedIn: “Wendy Powley was my first female mentor in computer science 20 years ago in university. She helped me in so many ways throughout the years. After attending CAN-CWiC 2022, I invited Wendy to come talk to our Women in Tech group at work. I asked her what made her think about organizing the first event in 2010. She said, ‘I wanted to bring the conference to my students’ and ‘I want my students to hear from ladies in the real world.’ She also told us that it is so important that women in industry empower girls to join technology. Thank you, Wendy, for all you do for the community.”
You can see more of Wendy’s impact in the community in the visualizations below:
Do you have an Impact Story to share? Reach out to us at email@example.com for a chance to have your story featured in an upcoming newsletter!
“Father of Computing” at the University of Waterloo
With exceptional leadership in the field of computer science and his dedication to making computers accessible to a wider audience, James Wesley (Wes) Graham (1932-1999) was known as the “Father of Computing” at the University of Waterloo. Serving as early director of the University of Waterloo’s Computing Centre, Wes had an active role in shaping computer science education worldwide. His experience teaching at the University inspired the creation of software to support education, particularly in programming and access to computers. Many of the software systems that would further enhance Waterloo’s international reputation were created under his leadership.
After starting his career as a systems engineer at IBM Canada, Wes joined the University of Waterloo in 1959 to teach statistics, where he quickly became one of the first professors offering courses in computer science. The move into this field brought exciting change and challenges for the University, leading to significant impact on Canadian and international computer science education and software development practices. Wes and other early professors were instrumental in establishing the department of computer science and in realizing the importance of computers to a wide range of applications providing opportunities for future generations.
Wes thoroughly enjoyed teaching and mentoring students and recent graduates throughout his career. Receiving the Distinguished Teacher Award from the University of Waterloo in 1978 was one of his proudest accomplishments. His professorship at the University and engagement with this burgeoning field of computer science allowed him to provide leadership and momentum in the growth of this new area that would establish a direction for others. Believing that computers should be available to the widest audience possible, Wes orchestrated the University of Waterloo’s investment in an IBM 360/75 computer in the mid 1960s, the most powerful computer in Canada at the time. He was influential in the development of the computer studies programs, along with hardware and software, for both university and high school students.
Wes was a champion of ‘ease of use’ for computers, long before ‘ease of use’ became central to the software industry. Recognizing that the available software was not designed for teaching purposes, Wes led a team in building a solution to facilitate learning. With four students and a junior faculty member, WATFOR (Waterloo Fortran Compiler) was built to solve speed of processing and obscure error reporting. Attracting worldwide attention, this compiler was eventually used in thousands of colleges and universities around the world as well as businesses and governments and led to the development of many other educational software systems at Waterloo.
With the intent of influencing software so that it could be better applied in education, Wes would often use the software to build his own programming examples for instructional books, providing candid feedback to the developers about his experience. If he felt software was confusing or had inappropriate error messages, he insisted it be improved. His determination was instrumental in the transformation of computing to make it accessible to more people. His approach and influence in the early WATFOR project helped make early Waterloo compilers successful—not just because of speed and efficiency, but because they were easier to use.
Wes’ hands-on approach to teaching was a reflection of his desire to provide leadership and guidance to others while exploring the many possible uses of computers. Many of the expectations Wes had for software and computing can be recognized in today’s systems and in the ongoing work of those who he mentored. In recognition of his many accomplishments Wes Graham was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1999.
Click on the image below to go to the Profound Impact™ academic ancestry graph connecting Wes Graham all the way back to Friedrich Leibniz!
Wes Graham had a long, impactful career as a professor, innovator and entrepreneur. You can view some of his most significant accomplishments listed in the image below.
Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Waterloo
With a rich and expansive career in mathematics and computer science, Dr. Don Cowan can be regarded as one of the earliest pioneers of computer science at the University of Waterloo. From experiencing the formative years of the University of Waterloo to participating in one of the earliest iterations of Silicon Valley, he has always had direct involvement in exciting advances in mathematics and computing. He was also an early entrepreneur and active participant in WATCOM and LivePage, two successful University of Waterloo spinoff companies that developed out of the exciting advances occurring in the field.
After starting his career teaching in the 1960s, Don began working on computers in a significant way and saw both the University of Waterloo campus and his field grow. Appointed as Founding Chair of the computer science department at a relatively young age, he faced the challenge of finding the people to work in a field that was still in its own youth. At the time, so few people worked in computer science in industry and academia, it was difficult to attract them to the University of Waterloo campus. However, with his passion and expertise and much help from his colleagues, the department grew from 3 to 35 members in five years and soon ranked as one of the top in the world.
As part of the team that developed and distributed software and hardware that supported computer science education, Don helped put the University of Waterloo on the map. These early projects contributed to many of the ideas behind the software systems that support computer-based learning for the students of today. In the 1960s, he ran computer science days, an event that annually brought thousands of high school students to the University of Waterloo and exposed them to computers and programming with a view that these young minds might embrace this exciting technology of the future. Continuing his work at the University of Waterloo, Don was principal investigator on major research projects and supervisor of graduate students. He also presided as chair of the board of five different corporations, including startups and not-for-profit organizations.
Mentorship played a major role in the trajectory of Don’s career, and Don is a vocal advocate for sharing knowledge and experience in these relationships. He recognizes his life has been significantly influenced by his many mentors, including his parents, his uncle Donald, Ralph Stanton and Wes Graham. Over his own tenure, Don has also supervised over 120 graduate students. Don feels privileged to have mentored these young people and see them continue to push boundaries and make the impossible possible.
Despite retiring 26 years ago, Don is still quite active in research and is excited to see what the future holds for the next generation. Programming may no longer be part of his day-to-day life, but he continues to work with several companies developing new and emerging technologies that push the boundaries of what’s possible. Don collaborates with exceptional minds that work together to provide software that augments community efforts by using artificial intelligence and mobile devices to learn about and present data at the municipal level. He remains an active researcher in computer science — staying right in the middle of progress.
Looking back at his career, there isn’t much that Don would change. Exciting things happened because people worked together, and Don will continue to look for these connections in his ongoing research and partnerships.
Click on the image below to go to the Profound Impact academic ancestry graph connecting Don Cowan all the way back to Issac Newton!
Dr. Cowan has a long history of entrepreneurial success. You can see some of the companies he has founded or been associated with listed in the image below. A Profound Impact indeed!